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Feb 22, 2010 01:57 PM

Generic "blue cheese" in the US

When one sees the term "blue cheese" generically used (e.g. "blue cheese dressing", "burger topped with blue cheese", etc) in the US, does anyone know what specific cheese it generally refers to? I realize that blue/bleu cheese can be used to describe any of them but it always seems that at most places this is referring to the same cheese.

Growing up I always thought that I didn't like blue cheese, it turns out that I don't like *this* cheese and I do in fact enjoy many bleu cheeses.

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  1. My impression is that "generic" blue cheese is an American industrial cheese product (e.g. made by Kraft) that is a dumbed down version of Roquefort.

    1. There are a lot of poor quality blue cheeses being produced in the US, including a number by companies like Kraft. Kraft and the like, however, are not big restaurant suppliers, and most US restaurants are using either a low quality generic blue cheese or Maytag blue cheese.
      Maytag has dominated the US blue cheese market since it was first made in the Forties. It is actually a high quality blue cheese, with a better reputation abroad than in the US. The process under which it is still made was created by two dairy scientists at Iowa State University. Initially, they had been trying to create a process for making Roquefort in the US, but after many failures, realized Roquefort cannot be duplicated. They started from scratch, using cow's milk instead of sheep's, a different strain of Penicillium, ripening the milk prior to adding rennet, using a slightly larger amount of rennet than is usual and a slightly higher temperature.
      While Maytag does not enjoy the protection of a designation of origin, it is a trademarked name which can be used only by Maytag Dairy Farms. This is not owned by the Maytag appliance company, but by the family which founded that company. It is properly classified as an artisan cheese, as it is hand made according to the original process. The milk used is from only local Iowa dairy farms (mostly Holsteins), and it is cave aged at Maytag Dairy Farms in the original caves built there for this process.
      This isn't necessarily the blue cheese you don't like, but it is in such wide use that I'd have trouble believing any American who has eaten blue cheese more than five times has not had it. If it's the one you don't like, there are two likely reasons. Most blue cheeses aside from Maytag and those modeled on Maytag (as many US artisan blues are) are made from sheep's milk or goat's milk, so you might not like cow's milk blues. Try some Stilton, which is also a cow's milk blue. If you don't like it, I'd bet this is it. The other possibility is that you prefer blues that are abundant in Brevibacterium. This is what gives most French and Italian blues their distinct odor. Maytag and most American blues are much lower in Brevibacterium.

      21 Replies
      1. re: danieljdwyer

        Great info ....

        Actually I love Stilton. I avoided it for years thinking that "I don't like blue cheese" but it turned out that I found it to be great. Out of the common cheeses that people think of, gorgonzola is one that can challenge me the most if it is too overwhelming, but even that isn't nearly as big a deal to me as when I find that "generic blue cheese" that I mentioned.

        A friend of mine brought up Maytag - I haven't knowingly had Maytag (as in, someone said "this is Maytag") which is a data point that I wish I had here.

        I think the issue with the one that I'm complaining about is that whatever factor it is that I'm not as big a fan of (as with gorgonzola), that's basically all there is to it. It is just that flavor in an overwhelming fashion.

        1. re: danieljdwyer

          I thought that it was the same family - the appliance family, the cheese and also Fritz Maytag, creator and owner of Anchor Steam beer here in San Francisco. No?

          1. re: tomatoaday

            Yes, but the Maytag family hasn't been involved in managing the appliance company since the Sixties. I'm not sure when they lost majority ownership, but Whirlpool owns Maytag now. So, while the farm and appliance company once had the same owners, there is no longer a connection.

            1. re: tomatoaday

              The cheese was started by two grandsons of the founder of the appliance company. The appliance and cheese operations were always separate companies. The current owner of Maytag Dairy in Iowa, Fritz Maytag III, is also the owner of Anchor Brewing Co. in San Francisco.

            2. re: danieljdwyer

              Daniel: This is a very good accounting of Maytag blue. There's just one thing that isn't quite right. There are in fact many more cow's milk blue cheeses made in the US and abroad than either sheep's or goat's milk blues.

              The artisanal cheese movement in the US has exploded in the past ten years and there are now many excellent blues available besides Maytag. Some that I recommend trying are Great Hill Blue (cow, MA), Cayuga Blue (cow, NY) Point Reyes Original Blue (cow, CA), Ewe's Blue (sheep, NY), Birchrun Blue (cow, PA), Gore-dawn-zola (cow, VT), Billy Blue (goat, WI), Smokey Blue (cow, smoked, OR) and Rogue River Blue (cow, OR). The last two come from Rogue Dairy in southern Oregon. Rogue River Blue, while expensive, is possibly the best blue cheese made in America. It is covered in leaves that are steeped in pear brandy. They impart a wonderful flavor to the cheese, which is creamy and exquisitely balanced with just the right amount of blueing and salt.

              1. re: cheesemaestro

                Can you recommend some foreign cow's milk blues? I've never been able to find any aside from Stilton. I've been told at various points that both Cabrales and Gorgonzola should be cow's milk, but I've never seen either without sheep or goat milk blended in.
                Great Hill Blue, due to proximity, is the domestic blue I buy most frequently. Berkshire Blue, on the opposite end of the state, is another very good Massachusetts blue. In a very different category, Westfield Farm, in central MA, makes a few very good surface ripened blues.

                1. re: danieljdwyer

                  This might help:
                  I'm a big fan of Cashel blue - it's a really creamy Irish blue cheese, tangy but still smooth and velvety. HTH!

                  1. re: babybat

                    Thanks. That's a cool filter. I forgot all about Cashel Blue, which I would agree is delicious.

                    1. re: babybat

                      Ooh, cashel is great. Had some at a cheese and wine tasting, and then bought some. Tends to be quite strong though.

                    2. re: danieljdwyer

                      Yes, Berkshire Blue is very good. When it first came out, it was one of the darlings of gourmet cheese shops. Unfortunately, it was implicated in a Listeria scare several years ago, and the government confiscated the wheels that were then in the aging room. Although evidence of Listeria was not found in the cheese, Michael Miller, the creator of Berkshire Blue, did not handle the negative publicity well and the cheese never regained its former glory. Many stores stopped carrying it and have not brought it back in to this day.

                      On the issue of foreign cow's milk blues, Cabrales (and the similar, but less intense, Valdeon) do sometimes contain varying amounts of goat and/or sheep's milk. The Spanish, and, to a lesser extent, the Italians, are prone to "adjusting" their cheese recipes seasonally, as the composition of the milk and the available food for the cows (grass vs. dry feed) changes. (This kind of tinkering with different milks is less common in France.) Still, Cabrales, Valdeon and Gorgonzola are primarily cow's milk cheeses and are usually classified as such.

                      Foreign cow's milk cheeses worth seeking out:

                      France: Fourme d'Ambert, Bleu d'Auvergne, St. Agur, Montbriac (very mild with a few blue flecks in the paste), Bleu de Gex, Bleu de Laqueuille. The first four should not be difficult to find in cheese shops and even in some better supermarket chains like Wegmans (which is coming to Massachusetts next year). The last two are harder to find in the US and may only be intermittently available.

                      Spain: La Peral (in addition to the aforementioned Valdeon and Cabrales). La Peral is a personal favorite. I highly recommend it. Cabrales, for the benefit of other readers, is the strongest blue cheese I know. Many people, even those who love blue cheeses, find it unbearably pungent and bitey. Valdeon is a better bet, unless you've tried Cabrales before.

                      Italy: Not particularly known for its blue cheeses other than Gorgonzola, but there are a couple of good ones: Blu del Moncenisio and Strachitunt. These may be hard to find, but Artisanal in NYC, which has a mail order operation, occasionally carries them.

                      Germany: Cambozola, Montagnolo Blue. These are soft, creamy and mild; Montagnolo is a triple creme blue. I wouldn't say that either is a great cheese, but they are good "starter" blues for people who don't fancy stronger blues and they are popular cheeses to serve at parties.

                      UK: There are many British cow's milk blues, but very few make their way to our shores. Over here, it's basically Stilton and its variants: Stichelton (the raw milk version I discuss elsewhere in this thread) and Shropshire Blue, which is basically a Stilton colored orange with annatto, although it is slightly milder than regular Stilton. Very occasionally, a blued version of Wensleydale is available.

                      In case you're interested in foreign sheep and goat's milk blues, I can recommend the following:

                      Sheep: Roquefort (France), Persille de Malzieu (France), Bleu des Basques (France--has a "curdy" texture that some like and others find offputting), Beenleigh Blue (England), Crozier Blue (Ireland, made by the Grubb family, which also makes the better known cow's milk Cashel Blue).

                      Goat: Persille de Tignes (France), Chevrefort (France), Blu di Capra (Italy), Harbourne Blue (England), Monte Enebro (also called Montenebro, Spain, a surface-ripened blue in the mold--pun intended!--of those made by Westfield Farm). I particularly like Harbourne (very expensive and not often available) and Monte Enebro (relatively expensive, but much cheaper than Harbourne and stocked in more stores).

                      I don't know where you are located in Massachusetts, but Formaggio Kitchen in Cambridge is one of the two or three best cheese shops in the country. You'll find many of the blues I've mentioned (and probably others) there.

                      1. re: cheesemaestro

                        Thanks. I'm in Boston, and have been to Formaggio Kitchen a few times. It is a great shop. Unfortunately, I always get there when it's incredibly busy, and I hate to hold up the line with twenty questions. I'll look for some of those you've mentioned - probably Fourme d'Ambert first, since it reminds me of the first season of Top Chef when Miguel couldn't remember the name when serving a cheese plate.

                      2. re: danieljdwyer

                        I'm also a big fan of the blue cow and blue goat from Westfield Farms.

                        Have a look at the Neals Yard website:

                    3. re: danieljdwyer

                      Despite Maytag's appearance in many stores, I truly doubt that mid-range restaurants are using it, and I can feel certain that no industrial makers of blue cheese dressing are, as well. Reason -- it is expensive.

                      Rather, much of the generic blue cheese for these products come from Denmark. Danish blue is much cheaper than any non-industrial blue. I was in the cheese biz for several years, and some restaurants, when springing for a better tasting blue, would opt for Fourme d'Ambert, Blue d'Auvergne, Mountain Gorgonzola, Dolce Gorgonzola, or Roaring Forties. All of these are cow's milk.

                      There are very few goat's milk blues even all over Europe. Sheep's milk, that's different. Personally, I opt for sheep's milk every time, as Roquefort has been my favorite cheese in the whole world, ever since I was a small toddler, and even after tasting some 5,000 cheeses. However, this is the most expensive, thanks to import tariffs, but a small amount goes a long way on the palate. I know of only one restaurant in NJ that uses it in their salad dressing.

                      Also, for any lover of cheese, perhaps the greatest blue out there is Jacqui Cannes Fourme d'Ambert Sauternes, in which a Belgium affineur buys whole wheels and ages them in his cellar, soaked in Sauternes. It retails for something like $45 per pound, but I'll treat myself to a quarter pound once a year or so.

                      1. re: pitterpatter

                        Thanks for reminding me of Roaring Forties, which I didn't put on my list. It's worthy of a mention. Mild to moderate strength and blueing. Fairly widely available in the US. It's also the only blue cheese I can think of off the top of my head that has a wax rind.

                        I really like the Fourme au Sauternes, but at its price point, there are other (non-blue) cheeses I might spend my money on first, such as the incredible cheeses from Switzerland that Rolf Beeler ages.

                        1. re: cheesemaestro

                          Please tell me and us more about Rolf Beeler's cheeses. I've been out of the business for 5 years, so am not savvy with the newest developments. And what are the other non-blue cheeses you would spend your money on first?

                          Since you know the Fourme au Sauternes you know the kind of cheese that I am mentioning. Surely not for a Tuesday evening of mac -n-cheese kind of thing -- only for the most special of occasions. I would rather spend less and enjoy more. Thanks.

                          1. re: pitterpatter

                            Rolf Beeler is Switzerland's most respected affineur. As such, he doesn't make cheese, but rather takes the cheeses from small, high quality cheesemakers and ages them to bring out all of their nuances. He has wonderful versions of well known Swiss Alpine cheeses, such as Gruyere, Appenzeller and Vacherin Fribourgeois, as well as lesser known cheeses, such as Hoch Ybrig (now getting better known), Aarauer Bierdeckel, Alp Drackloch, and Forsterkase. He is also behind Blaue Geiss, a Swiss goat's milk blue cheese that has earned rapturous praise. I didn't put it on my list, because I've not yet had the good fortune to taste it. The well known cheese authority, Max McCalman, makes sure that Artisanal Cheese in NYC always has some of Rolf's cheeses on hand. They are available through mail order.

                            Formaggio Kitchen in Cambridge, MA, which is always on the lookout for wonderful cheeses from small artisanal producers, recently started working with Konrad Hausser, a Swiss exporter. They have brought in numerous cheeses that I haven't seen anywhere else in the US. You can find them on their website. I'm not familiar with most of them, but one of these days, I'm going to put together an order and have some mailed to me in PA. Formaggio Kitchen is also importing several intriguing cheeses from Belgium.

                          2. re: cheesemaestro

                            Yes, Roaring Forties was what came to mind when he specified "foreign, cow's milk" blues. Excellent blue with good flavor and texture.

                          3. re: pitterpatter

                            Maytag Blue might be rare at mid range restaurants, but there are at least some that use it. A restaurant I used to prep in used it for blue cheese dressing, and I see a number of restaurant supply companies that sell it. There was also a trend a few years back of Maytag Blue burgers. But yes, it's not going to be found in most restaurants or in industrially produced dressings. I just think that, given their market share, most Americans who have eaten blue cheese (not in a dressing) have had some.

                            1. re: danieljdwyer

                              Daniel, you are right -- Maytag was very popular about a decade ago. I think that with the influx of blues from Europe and Australia, that most folks have found alternatives that are just as flavorful, or even more so, at less expense. I look forward to reading more of your posts on cheese, as you are clearly more knowledgeable about contemporary trends than I am.

                              1. re: danieljdwyer

                                maytag is still frequently used even at mid-range restaurants in the upper midwest. seems like it gets "trendy" on the coasts every decade or so but it never really loses popularity in the region it's produced.

                                1. re: soupkitten

                                  I would agree it doesn't lose popularity in the region it's produced, but it probably is seeing a decline in sales. In the last year or so, it has nearly doubled in price.
                                  It used to be my choice for adding to anything, but now has become only for special occasions, and is not to be diluted.

                          4. Until the recent explosion of interest in cheese and cheese making, much of the blue cheese made in the US were by large industrial companies. It's primary uses are cooking, salad and salad dressing. Much of it is salty and lack any kind of nuances. Maytag as stated in an earlier post being an exception. Now with the increased interest in cheeses and eating them as is, there many small artisan cheese making wonderful and distinctive blue cheeses, all so different from the 'generic blue cheese' that many of us grew up eating.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: PBSF

                              Yeah, that's sort of how it came up in my mind. Was eating a cheese plate that was loaded with blue cheeses and I said, "you know, I love a lot of blue cheeses ... why did I always grow up hating (and still do) that ubiquitous 'blue cheese' that we see here?"

                            2. I don't know much about American blue cheese, but there's such a difference across any one kind of cheese in the first place. I went to the shop once to get some soft cheese for bread, and they were giving out samples of stilton. Free cheese I thought. Well it worked, and I ended up getting some of the great unpasteurised Stilton instead.

                              And before that, I totally wasn't in the mood for it.

                              But as far as blue cheese goes, you have roquefort, gorgonzola, stilton, cambazola... They all taste different :/

                              10 Replies
                              1. re: Soop

                                Soop. you couldn't have bought unpasteurized Stilton, unless it was before 1990. In 1989, Colston Bassett, the last producer of raw milk Stilton, decided to stop making it after concerns were raised in the UK about possible Listeria contamination. When the cheese was awarded DOP status (a designation giving it geographical protection), the standard for the cheese was revised to specify that Stilton be made only from pasteurized milk. A few years ago, Neal's Yard Dairy, a prestigious cheese retailer and distributor in London, and Joe Schneider, a cheesemaker from New York now living in England, got together to revive the tradition of making raw milk Stilton. Because of the existing DOP standard for Stilton, they were barred from using the name and wound up calling their cheese Stichelton, which is the ancient name of the village where Stilton was supposedly first made. It's an awesome cheese--creamier than Stilton, with an extra long finish.

                                1. re: cheesemaestro

                                  Ditto on Stichelton; the Borough Market branch of Neal's Yard is my local cheese shop, and we chow on it often.

                                  1. re: cheesemaestro

                                    Hmm. Wonder what it was then? It was definitely an artisan Stilton from Fresh and Wild. Maybe it was something to do with rennet? But it was much creamier than most stiltons.

                                    1. re: Soop

                                      Could it have been Stichelton? If not, it may have been the Stilton from Colston Bassett, which is generally acknowledged to be the best of the six producers of this cheese.

                                      1. re: cheesemaestro

                                        TBH, I've never heard of stichelton before. Is this an American term? It was labelled Stilton, but the person on the cheese counter made a point of it being (I thought) unpasteurised. But I could be mistaken I guess.

                                        1. re: Soop

                                          Stichelton isn't an American term. See my explanation several entries up in this thread. If your cheese was labeled Stilton, then it wasn't Stichelton, and it was pasteurized. Cheese counter staff are not always properly trained and have varying degrees of knowledge. The person helping you may have been misinformed.

                                    2. re: cheesemaestro

                                      We visited London a few months ago and fell in love with the Stichelton at Borough Market. Ended up buying a hunk, wrapped it tightly and took it on the plane the next day as part of our in flight snacking. So wish we could get that here.

                                      1. re: Jase

                                        Jase, if you are in the US, you can get Stichelton. There are several cheese shops across the country that are importing Stichelton through Neal's Yard Dairy in London. Some have mail order operations.

                                        1. re: cheesemaestro

                                          Thanks! Didn't realize it was available in the US. Yikes, just checked prices, rather steep even before the shipping. I live in LA and have to see if Beverly Hills Cheesestore carries it. Thanks again.

                                    3. re: Soop

                                      Off topic, but if you get a chance to see an episode of "Chef" where Gareth Blackstock bounds over hill and dale, dodging the waffen cheese polizei in order to procure some unpasteurized Stilton, do it. Hilarious is too small a word for it.

                                      Okay, back to your learned disquisitions on the bleus.